Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Math?

Catholics find God in all things, inside and outside religion class.

Is there a Catholic way of learning something?

Math? Science? History?

It’s an intriguing question. We wrestled with the question this past year at The Cardinal Newman Society, while developing proposed Catholic curriculum standards for Catholic education.

It’s easy to understand that Jesus is the Master Teacher. “Rabbi,” His disciples called Him. A Catholic teacher should emulate Christ and should lead young people to Him.

But saying there’s a Catholic approach to mathematics evokes a vision of Jesus writing in the sand at the Sea of Galilee, attempting to teach pre-calculus to a school of fishermen. Oh, if only Catholics did have a divinely simple method of advanced mathematics! It’s not, at least, in my translation of the Bible.

I’ve never heard a historian suggest that Catholics should learn only about their own experience while neglecting other important world events. Salvation history deserves priority in Catholic education. But within the particular academic discipline of history, studying the Nazi Holocaust is arguably as necessary as studying the Exodus.

I’ve also never heard a scientist suggest that the scientific method works better for Catholics, or that the Old Testament is a textbook for scientific knowledge.

So what’s “Catholic education,” then? Is it a secular education on which we sprinkle prayer, catechesis and Christian values?

The promise seems much larger. Certainly there’s not much point of Catholic standards for curricula in math, history, science and English language arts, if the “education” in Catholic schools is not uniquely Catholic.

The truth is, there is indeed something very special in Catholic education about how and what a student learns. That’s in every subject—not just religion. It doesn’t mean rejecting knowledge that is truthful and worthy of a secular education. But Catholic education has priorities that are uniquely suited to human development and to the needs of the soul, and so our expectations for student learning are always and substantially different… and better!

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